This was not my best year for reading. For some, quarantine meant more time to kill. But I had a two-year-old to entertain in lockdown, a book to launch and promote, a baby to grow and give birth to during the pandemic, and then a dark quarry lake of postpartum depression to drown in. I did not often reach for books, or if I did, they often fell out of my hand from either sheer exhaustion or melancholia. But some stuck and I was grateful to disappear into their worlds a bit.
My favorite books this year were Temporary by Hilary Leichter and A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet. Hilary is my friend but that’s not why I love her book the most. I love it the most because it is strange, emotional and sensational. It is all the fizz and energy of striking a match. It made me feel tipsy. A Children’s Bible is the book I’ve always wanted to read and probably the book I’ve always wanted to write. A friend confessed to me that upon reading the last sentence of it she threw the book across the room in utter delight and a touch of anger at how perfect it was. Violence against books can be a form of high praise. And I’d say Greg Grandin’s The End of the Myth was a favorite too, but it’s not the kind of book I feel favorite-y about. So I’ll just say it should be required reading.
I think I read In the Distance by Hernán Diaz this year, and if it wasn’t this year it was last late fall. Regardless, it was ridiculously good and I was amazed to read a book that featured brain-tanning because I had just finished writing a book that featured brain-tanning and I just don’t think of that as being a common thing one encounters in most fiction.
The sharp and beautiful Life Events by Karolina Waclawiak allowed me to spend some time grieving, which I needed to do.
A friend gave me The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling and I read it at the beginning of the year and flushed at how perfectly she captures the unsettling ennui of motherhood. Near the beginning the main character describes grabbing her daughter too tight and how bad and good it feels and I felt as exposed as I felt understood.
I pre-ordered more books this year than ever before. A lot of those were by friends because I always pre-order friends. But this year, as terrible as it was, was an amazing year for books, or at least for new, anticipated works by writers I admire launching into the world. So even before I was actively trying to help the publishing industry through COVID, I had queued up a good number of books. Some non-friend pre-orders I really loved and that wowed me were How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang, Disappear Doppelänger Disappear by Mathew Salesses, Lakewood by Megan Giddings, and The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.
I got to read two outstanding forthcoming books that I hope you will love as much as I did: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan and Farthest South by Ethan Rutherford.
My daughter unearthed Fox in Socks from the bookcase and I cackled as I read it to her for the first time. She didn’t really get it. And then she found Corduroy and I guess I didn’t remember it well from my own childhood, because by the end of reading it to her I had surprise tears in my eyes.
Lastly, I read the most fascinating article this year about Annie Dillard. Written by Diana Saverin and published in The Atlantic in 2015, it explores how Dillard came to write her seminal Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, revealing that she was creating a wilderness out of the suburban landscape she lived in. She wanted to be a great wilderness writer, but in reality she was a housewife, married to her former college professor who would write major biographies of Emerson and Thoreau. It’s a fascinating and also maddening exploration. And it gave me plenty to chew on as I limp into 2021.
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